Cilantro Cyclospora Infection Outbreak Illnesses Top 380, CDC and FDA Report

Federal health officials indicate that hundreds of people from at least 26 different states may have developed a stomach virus, known as Cyclospora, as a result of imported cilantro products contaminated by human waste in Mexican farming fields and processing lines. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an outbreak update on August 4, indicating that 384 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a stomach virus that has been linked to contaminated cilantro imported from a certain Mexican state.

The outbreak has caused several major grocery retailers to recall cilantro from store shelves. The FDA has also imposed a partial ban on cilantro from the Mexican region to control the outbreak.

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As of August 3, the CDC reports that 26 states in the U.S. have reported illnesses linked to Cyclospora cayetanesis, with majority of the outbreaks stemming from Texas, Georgia, and Wisconsin. These states have experienced large clusters of outbreaks and Wisconsin and Texas have identified imported cilantro from Pueblo, Mexico as the primary carrier through epidemiological and traceback investigations.

Most of those sickened have an onset date beginning on or after May 1, 2015 and reported no international traveling prior to the infection onset. Certain clusters in Texas and Wisconsin have been traced back to local restaurants using imported cilantro from Pueblo.

Cyclospora cayetanesis is a human protozoan parasite that causes intestinal illness with prolonged and severe diarrhea and many flu-like symptoms. In many cases, the symptoms cause diarrhea, nausea and fatigue and can last several weeks to a month or more if not treated. The parasite is shed from the intestinal tract of humans can remain dormant outside of the host for an extended period of time.

On July 28, the FDA imposed a cilantro import ban on Pueblo, Mexico farms after U.S. and Mexican authorities visited 11 farms and observed dire conditions including human feces and toilet paper found on the growing fields and around the facilities, inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities without soap, running water, or toilet paper, and in some cases facilities didn’t offer any washing or toilet facilities. The FDA reported that the water inside of an employee hand washing tank even tested positive for C. cayetanensis.

The FDA’s report further indicated that five of the 11 visited farms were linked to the current outbreak inside the U.S. However, this is not the first outbreak the U.S. has experienced from contaminated produce imported from Mexico. The FDA reports this year marks the fourth consecutive summer in which the intestinal infection Cyclospora has caused outbreaks from contaminated produce imported from Mexico, specifically, the state of Mexico.

The FDA believes the infected feces has contaminated the growing fields, irrigation and sanitary used water, and has been transferred throughout the processing and packaging linesfrom unsanitary working conditions.

In addition to the FDA’s ban of cilantro imported into the U.S. from Pueblo, major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Kroger grocery stores have pulled all cilantro imported from Pueblo, Mexico from stores in seven states out of an abundance of caution.

The FDA is advising consumers to discontinue eating cilantro products that were imported from Pueblo, Mexico only, and that all other importers are on the agency’s “Green List” and their farms have been inspected and verified to show sanitary farming practices. Consumer should still use caution when eating cilantro products as these products are typically not cooked and washing them may not kill off or remove any or all bacteria that could be present.

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